Mexicans turned back at borders for not renewing old permit to high-tech card
McALLEN, Texas (AP) – About 2 million Mexicans failed to convert their border-crossing cards into new high-tech IDs by the Oct. 1 deadline, and hundreds were turned back Monday when they tried to get into the United States.
Some said they were unaware of the cutoff date for getting the new ”laser visas,” while others said they had been expecting the U.S. government to grant an extension, as some members of Congress have requested.
The new ID cards are required along the 1,962-mile-long U.S.-Mexican boundary in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Isabel Lopez Flores, 66, traveled 4 hours from the interior town of Aldama, Mexico, so she could go to JC Penney in McAllen to buy a new pair of glasses.
”They told me this wasn’t good anymore. I had no idea,” Flores said, shocked, as she held up her passport.
Officials at one entry point, at McAllen, Texas, had returned 308 pedestrians, 551 vehicles, and 66 Mexican truck drivers by 3 p.m.
In Arizona, about 100 people were turned back from the state’s seven ports of entry during the first half of the day, said Russell Ahr, Immigration and Naturalization Service deputy district director.
”The awareness of the new card is greater than we probably expected, and the inconvenience has been minimal,” Ahr said.
At California’s San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, immigration inspectors by mid-morning had turned back 25 people who didn’t have the new cards. But most pedestrians moved quickly through the crossing, with few expressing any gripes.
”It’s normal, no problems at all,” said Ruben Reynosa, 41, a Tijuana resident who planned to go shopping in San Diego. ”I don’t know anyone who didn’t get their cards. We had a lot of notice.”
Congress mandated the use of the new cards in 1996 but has extended the deadline at least twice.
About 5.5 million of the old permits, which look like a driver’s license, were issued. The new ones arrive 60 to 90 days after they are applied for and feature fingerprints and data encrypted in magnetic strips, which officials hope can prevent fraud and forgery.
The cards permit Mexicans to enter the United States and travel within 25 miles of the border for up to 72 hours at a time, and are important to cities like McAllen, which in the past decade have exploded with strip malls and theme restaurants catering to residents from both countries.
Some border points still lack the machinery to read the cards. Without the machines, U.S. authorities must eyeball them the same way they did the old ones, in essence rendering the new security features meaningless.
The State Department, which issues the cards, has asked Congress to extend the deadline again, but lawmakers have yet to vote on it. Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairmen of the House and Senate immigration subcommittees, support another extension.
In a letter marked urgent and sent to President Bush on Saturday, Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat from Corpus Christi, predicted ”a major disruption in the commerce of the entire southern border” if an extension was not granted. He said the lack of equipment made such an order especially important.
For Blanca Guevara de Arias, Sunday was the last chance for a long while to walk over the footbridge to the United States and shop at discount stores that offer bulk toilet paper, tortilla chips and generic canned cola.
She usually makes the trip over the Rio Grande every 15 days. But now she will have to wait two months until the paperwork for her new laser visa is processed.
Maria Isabel Sepulveda, who works at a hospital laboratory in Mexico, has also applied for the new card. On Sunday, she came across the border to get a replacement starter for her 1981 car.
Pulling out her faded ”cita,” or border-crossing permit, she said she will have to wait until December, when her new card comes through, to return to the United States and buy jewelry for herself and gifts for others.
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